Ovarian cancer is often referred to as a "silent killer," since its symptoms aren't initially alarming and often don't even become noticeable until the disease is very advanced. Unlike breast cancer and cervical cancer, which have standardized screening procedures, there's no reliable screening protocol at the moment for ovarian cancer, and even a pap smear won't check for it. The main ways you can be vigilant about prevention and detection are committing to a healthy lifestyle and being informed about common symptoms like prolonged bloating, needing to pee more frequently, and discomfort in the pelvic area, according to The Mayo Clinic. (For more info on the disease, check out these 4 Things You Didn't Know About Ovarian Cancer)
Though this information is certainly scary, there is hope. A new study published in The Annals of Oncology found that in the U.S. and Europe, deaths due to ovarian cancer have dropped significantly. Between 2002 and 2012, they declined by 16 percent in the U.S. and 10 percent in countries that are part of the European Union. Drops were also seen in various other parts of the world, but to a lesser degree. The researchers stated that the main reason for the improvement is the use of a medication you may be quite familiar with: oral contraceptives. Numerous studies have shown that the Pill may lower the risk of ovarian cancer, including one in the European Journal of Cancer. Researchers aren't completely sure how the Pill helps prevent ovarian cancer yet, but it's thought to be linked to the hormone progestin. A 1998 study suggested that progestin may trigger damaged ovarian cells to die before they become cancerous, but more research is needed to confirm this and so far, there's been no real progress.
Still, this new study notes that ovarian cancer rates dropped most drastically in nations where oral contraceptives were introduced earliest. The decline was also most drastic among women between 20 and 40 years old, and these ladies are more likely to be taking oral contraceptives than women over 40.
The researchers also took a stab at predicting how the death rate will continue to decline by 2020, which they believe will drop further by 15 percent in the U.S. and 10 percent in the E.U. They cite the continued use of oral contraceptives, better detection and treatment for women who have ovarian cancer, and declines in menopausal hormone use as evidence for this prediction. Only time will tell whether they're right, but the positive outlook is promising.